Inside the mind of a writer www.scskillman.co.uk

After being turned down by numerous publishers, he had decided to write for posterityGeorge Ade

 It is a truth certainly acknowledged by the author of the above quote that many creative writers struggle for years, enduring perhaps decades in the wilderness of submissions and rejections, before their persistence finally pays off. 

Most would-be authors, says Alison Baverstock in The Artists and Writers Yearbook, “are pessimistic optimists.”  And The Old Testament is full of stories of people who waited or fought seemingly in vain or wandered in wilderness for many years before God’s plan for them unfolded, and their gifts were used and they prospered.

Joseph, Moses, and Elijah come to mind.  Moses was 80 years old when he led the Children of Israel out of Egypt, and witnessed the parting of the Red Sea.  Elijah gave way to depression before God re-commissioned him.  Joseph languished forgotten in jail before his gift for interpreting dreams lifted him up again.

Fast forward a few thousand years to my chance meeting with a publisher (later to become one of London’s top literary agents) who took an interest in my writing.  He encouraged me to write my first novel. 

 Not long ago I attended an evening on Discernment, and an image was presented to us: “You can spend years knocking on doors.  Some doors lead to broom cupboards and some to elevator shafts.” 

When I met this publisher, in the early stages of my writing career, I opened a door and it led into a lift.  I stepped in, and went up.  But it was a faith-operated lift.  It required me to have enough faith to press the button for the top floor.  I only had enough faith to press the button for Floor 3.  The doors opened, the demon of self-doubt stepped in, and pressed the button for the basement.  And down I went again, to the very bottom of the shaft.

So, as my writing life continued beyond the outer gates, thick brown envelopes dropped on my doormat, and I opened letters saying things like We read this with much amusement but in the end were not sufficiently drawn to the central idea and We found your style fluent and assured but it is not quite for us  and Although this is witty and well written… our fiction programme is so full that we are buying very few new titles unfortunately…. I wish you success in finding a less over-burdened publisher.

 But I later discovered that, contrary to the feelings of rejected authors, when you actually meet editors in publishing houses, they’re very pleasant people.  The Mills and Boon editor I met in the Ladies at the Savoy, at the RNA Romantic Novel of the Year Award luncheon, was very nice.  And so was the Rights Director for the top agent I referred to earlier in this article, whom I met later in the dining room. She reminded me of a member of my babysitting circle. (This lady still rejected my novel when I sent it to her though, and subsequently left the agency and published a novel herself).

And so I continued to open letters saying, Due to the very strong market in this kind of literature your novel would not be viable for us to publishThis is too commercial for usI’m afraid this doesn’t quite fit with our current list.   

Then I read Margaret Silf’s book Sacred Spaces, and found these words in her chapter on Crossing Places

At this ‘burial plot’ of my experience, I am standing between two worlds – between the old, the known and understood, and the new beginning which still lies beyond the scope of my wildest imagining. I am standing in sacred space because it is on the very edge of the known that the infinite possibilities of the unknown begin to unfold.

 She went on to say: 

God stretched the rainbow across the heavens, so that we might never forget the promise that holds all creation in being.  This is the promise that life and joy are the permanent reality, like the blue of the sky, and that all the roadblocks we encounter are like the clouds – black and threatening perhaps, but never the final word.  Because the final word is always “Yes!”

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Comments on: "The Pessimistic Optimism of the Long-Distance Creative Writer" (3)

  1. Isabella said:

    Sorry due to not having a computer I only read this please note that I have read your first novel and found it very well written and I do not believe it is too commercial. I thoughly believe it is an excellent first novel well written and more please.

    • Thank you Isabella! This remark about being “too commercial” reflects the fact that literary agents, editors, publishers and of course general readers are all very subjective, and that different comments from different agents can completely contradict each other. What this means is that an author should never take these comments too seriously – unless of course several people all arrive independently at the same conclusion! I’m glad you enjoyed my novel and are looking forward to my next one – which does contain some of the same characters, by the way!

  2. This comment was received by email:

    LOVED your latest blog. You are on sure ground here and my mind immediately went to 2 Corinthians 1:20 – for no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.

    However, living it is total paradox.

    It reminds me of a book I have read called ‘Treasures of Darkness’ by Jane Grayshon where she asks whether God is faithful and good – the rainbow is real, the eternal Yes is always true – in the uncertainties, the pain , the distress and the disappointments of everyday life which are not whisked away in answer to prayer.

    Her question is can I still find this good and faithful God in the darkness, and if I can, can I live within this paradox.

    Her answer is the eternal ‘Yes’.

    Treasures of darkness sums it up perfectly. Isaiah 45:3 says: ‘I will give you treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.

    Nothing easy and straightforward here.

    Keep going!

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